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How the Dawson County School System delivered thousands of meals to local children during COVID-19
meals wrap up
Dawson County bus drivers hand out school meals to local students. - photo by Erica Jones

With the school year coming to an end, the Dawson County School System is continuing to deliver meals to local students every day via school bus delivery routes. 

The meal delivery during the COVID-19 pandemic has been completely unlike anything the school system has done before, but school officials say the program has turned out to be even more successful than originally anticipated. 

Dawson County Schools began delivering meals to students when schools were first closed due to the virus. Every day, bus drivers drove their normal routes and made their normal stops, but instead of picking up school children they instead dropped off food to them. The meals contained a breakfast and lunch for each child, regardless of their grade or whether they rode the bus usually.

Tony Wooten, safe schools coordinator for Dawson County Schools, explained that the whole operation proved to be challenging for more than one reason.

“It’s just something that we’ve never done before, coming in every morning and having the lunchroom ladies prepare that kind of food - obviously they do that every day at school, but to have to prepare it to be transported,” Wooten said. “And one of the challenges was, we’ve got kids who are toddler age who aren’t in our system yet, so we didn’t know where they’re at, but our bus drivers did an amazing job running the routes every day and finding people that needed it.”

But despite the challenges, the meal delivery grew incrementally, going from 2,700 meals on the first day of routes to an average of 5,000 a day.

“I thought for the first day, that 2,700 meals was a lot. Until we gave out 5,000 in one day,” Wooten said, “and then when we did spring break we did the normal Friday 5,000 meals plus the next week’s meals. I mean they gave out 25,000 meals that day in a matter of hours.”

One of the most impressive aspects of the operation was how efficiently the meals were made, packaged and delivered, according to Wooten.

“It’s just really unbelievable to sit back and see how hard and how determined the lunchroom staff and the bus drivers were to make sure it got done,” Wooten said. “From the time the buses get loaded until the kids have them in their hands is less than two hours, so you figure the lunchroom ladies come in to make them and in around six hours that food’s been made, transported and the kids are eating it.”

The effort couldn’t have happened without the lunchroom staff, bus drivers, and dozens of volunteers from all across the Dawson County community, he said.

“It’s not just the school system, but the fire department, the school resource officers that were involved helping us, First Baptist Church, and I think just the community as a whole rallying together to make sure our kids were being fed during this time,” Wooten said. “I don’t think there’s any doubt you could see how much people care about the kids in this community.”

The goal of the meals was not only to feed the children but also to help take some stress off of parents, who may be without work or working from home during the virus.

“You have parents struggling to work from home right now, plus having to try to help educate their kids and cook during the day,” Wooten said. “So hopefully the meal program took stress off some of those parents who didn’t have to make lunch and breakfast so they’d be able to concentrate on the kid’s schoolwork or their own work that they’re having to do from home.”

If everything with the meal delivery process stays as it is now, the school system expects to have served approximately 220,000 meals by the end of school.

With the school year wrapping up, the school board is now turning its focus on how to continue feeding the children that need food the most over the summer.

“Obviously the school system has done summer feeding for quite a few years but this might look different than in the past,” Wooten said. “Some of the summer feedings we’ve done before were at some of the camps that were going on in town, but we don’t know yet if we’re even going to have these camps in our community so it’s still kind of a fluid situation. But we’re watching to see how it develops, and I know we’re looking at different ways that we can continue to make sure we take care of those that need it the most.”